Memoir of a memoir
An editor explores the memoir-writing process over ninety days
Even though I started on a Tuesday and didn’t have a full first week, my initial flurry of enthusiasm meant that I’d written an extra thousand words anyway during the week, so I had the full weekend off and felt very smug. It rained almost constantly, so I had fun snuggling with Otto dog and re-reading my first memoir-writing resource along with some summery fiction.
My pre-project reading and how it has helped
I will be looking at various helpful books and other resources over the next few weeks, but I said in my last post that I would take a closer look at the book that I have been reading in the run-up to starting my first draft –Write It All Down by Cathy Rentzenbrink.
I was given a proof copy of this book by chance a few months back, and from the first page it really chimed with me. The tone is warm and personal, and I think it will feel accessible and friendly to even the most hesitant memoirist. I rarely mark books, but I knew I’d be keeping this one and so filled it with highlighter pen.
I was interested to see that I already share some writing-related and other habits with the author: I write my personal journal Monday to Friday and not at weekends, I avoid consuming news, I take time to properly relax and look after myself, I enjoy colourful pens and pencils and mindmaps on big pieces of paper, and I always have a notebook with me.
The advice is not generally about writing style or technique – it’s about actually getting started with writing and the barriers many people face with this. This is a wise angle to take – first drafts don’t need good writing technique; they need to get written.
I don’t have a problem sitting down to write if I know what I’m writing about – I’ll happily churn out words onto the page for my own pleasure and don’t worry about how my first draft looks, so this part was less pertinent to me. For those who struggle to get started at all, though, I think the advice provided is marvellous.
But the author also covers the problem I do have – writing about myself and imagining actually sending it anywhere for other people to read. This aspect of the book was invaluable to me.
There is a wonderful list of all the things that stop people writing their memoir. Many of them were spot-on for me – especially being afraid of being seen, of taking up space, of asking for attention.
After all, most of my working life is spent in the background, helping other people’s stories take shape on the page, and creative writing has been mostly an indulgence for me – so putting myself out there in public is not something I find easy.
But that is part of the challenge I’ve set myself.
How I plan to keep using the book
The book is in four main parts – Preparation, Excavation, Crafting and Editing, and Getting Work Done.
So far I have read (and highlighted) the Preparation and Excavation sections.
I’m saving the third part, Crafting and Editing, until after I have finished my ninety-day writing stint. I expect to learn a bit less from that section in practical terms, given that editing is what I do for a living, but I’m sure there will still be nuggets of wisdom to be gained.
I’m saving the fourth part, Getting Work Done, in case I hit a block – at the moment, I’m steaming ahead, but it’s good to know it’s there if I need a friendly boost.
I plan to post from time to time about my progress and about the books and other resources I’ve found helpful. Sign up for updates here, or comment and let me know how you found the first week of writing your memoir – or even just what fiction you’re reading! I’d love to hear from you.
About this blog
I've been an editor for independent book authors for over a decade.